But when he found sobriety, a new chapter opened — and this year he graduated from Rhode Island College with a nursing degree and praise from his advisor, Assistant Professor of Nursing Sheri Boucher, an Air Force veteran

PROVIDENCE – For David Fields, 43, the reckoning came one day in early April 2018. He was working a sales job and living in an apartment in Woonsocket that, with his excessive drinking, had become squalid. That night, drunk on beer, he passed out on his couch.

An old pizza box was near his head, and under it was a decomposing, baby wild turkey. His cat had brought it inside one day and it had been there longer than he remembered.

“I woke up that morning, sat on my couch with my head in my hands, still in my suit, covered in beer, near the dead, baby turkey,” he told Ocean State Stories. “I laughed when I saw it, and then I realized how unfunny it was.”

Years of alcoholism had already ruined his marriage and cost Fields, a former Army combat medic who served with distinction in Iraq, a home and a promising future.

The dead turkey, Fields said, was a turning point, what he described as “when you stop digging, when you stop and realize that unless you get help, unless you change your life — and when you realize that you don’t know how to change your life, you need to call out to someone for help.”

Without that, he thought, You’re going to die. You’re going to end up in jail. You’re going to lose everything.

“So I called somebody close to me who was involved in AA and I asked him to take me to AA for my first meeting,” Fields said.

A long and difficult journey was nearing its end.

If his resolve held, the road ahead promised hope.


Raised in Rhode Island, Fields spent much of his childhood in Cranston, where he attended Cranston High School East.

“I was lucky enough to be in a school that really highlighted creativity like band and art and acting and put them on a pedestal right next to things like football and hockey and soccer,” Fields said. He was drawn to the creative arts, which would lead him to a job in advertising. But he was living with undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, and that fed his compulsivity.

A young Fields early in his Army service – Submitted photo

As he approached 20 years of age, Fields was shiftless. He was taking classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, but he was “not doing very well,” as he put it.

“I didn’t really have anywhere to go, anything to do,” Fields said. “My mother came to me and said, ‘we always thought about you going to the military because of your grandfather and your uncles, and we have a military tradition in our family from people that have gone from, you know, colonels and people that have gone up to warrant officers.”

So Fields enlisted in the Army.

“I spent a long time in training,” he recalled, and eventually he transitioned into the reserves — but he began to lose interest. “My reserve component was up in Massachusetts,” he continued, “and I was in Cranston. It was a very long drive and I wasn’t taking it very seriously. I would miss drill, I would miss my time. I kind of gave up on my military career.”

But America was at peace, and his service was not needed.

“I went from there to meeting a woman,” Fields recalled. “We moved to Chicago. In Chicago, a new life started for me. I decided to go to school to become a graphic designer and an advertiser, just because I’ve always had a knack for art and a knack for sales and it all seemed to work together.”

Fields found a job in advertising, married and he and his wife bought a condominium. Although he was not participating in reserve activities, he remained a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, or IRR, a backup force that buttresses active-duty units. In time, he forgot some of the fine print in the enlistment contract he’d signed when joining the reserves: “Soldiers in the IRR may also be involuntarily mobilized in time of national crisis.”

The federal National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines dangerous drinking as Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD. The institute’s latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published two years ago, found that 29.5 million people in America had AUD.

The survey broke the data down by age, gender and demographics. Among the key findings of people 18 and older with AUD:

● 17.1 million were men. 

● 11.7 million were women.

● 143,000 were American Indian or Alaska Native.

● 929,000 were Asian.

● 3.6 million were Black or African American.

● 18.2 million were White.

● 580,000 were of two or more races.

● 5.3 million were Hispanic or Latino.

Data kept by the Rhode Island Department of Health reveals that in 2020, the latest year for which statistics are available, Rhode Island ranks 17th in the U.S. for an annual consumption of alcohol, per capita, at 2.71 gallons. The U.S. average is 2.45 gallons.

The state ranked lower than the U.S. median in 2020 for adult binge drinking, defined as five-plus drinks in a single occasion in the past 30 days for men and four-plus drinks in a single occasion in the past 30 days for females: 15.1% of the total adult population compared to 15.7% nationally. The year before, however, Rhode Island ranked higher: 18.2% compared to 16.8% nationally.

Sorted by race, the data showed that binge drinking was highest among the Hispanic/Latinx population, with 14.3% of those identifying as Hispanic/Latinx in the past 30 days. Next was Other/Multiple, with 13.8% in the past 30 days, followed by 13.7% for Black in the past 30 days. Whites came in at 12.7% in the past 30 days.

Sorted by sexual orientation, the Health Department found binge drinking in the past 30 days highest among those identifying as Bisexual, with 20.9% of those identifying as that in the past 30 days. Gay/Lesbian was next, at 16.4% in the past 30 days. followed by Straight, at 12.6% in the past 30 days. Other was lowest at 8.8% in the past 30 days

And sorted by marital status, binge drinking was highest among Partnered, at 22.7% of those identifying as such in the past 30 days, followed by Never Married, 20.2% in the past 30 days. Married was third, with 11.8 % in the past 30 days. Last was Divorced, at 9.1% in the past 30 days.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. and allies invaded Afghanistan, and in March 2003, they began an invasion of Iraq.

A year later, Fields recalled that “I was sitting down at my desk, drawing some logo and I got a call from Rhode Island,” from relatives whose address he’d give the Army when he was in the reserves. “They’d got a letter from the military and that letter stated that I had 18 days to pack up my things and get to Fort Benning, Georgia, to deploy for no less than 18 months to Baghdad.” He was 24 at the time.

During his year-and-a-half in Iraq, Fields served with distinction, becoming a combat medic and earning the nickname “doc,” which he held as high praise.

Fields in Iraq – Submitted photo

He and his fellow medics, he told Ocean State Stories, “weren’t just people that put band-aids on wounds. We were people who had an emotional connection to our troops. We were the people that they could come and talk to. We were the people who could anticipate their needs and  care for them as a nurse would care for a patient.

“We were there to be their conscience, their mom, their dad, their priest. We were there to have them lean on us and feel vulnerable without feeling weak. We had special training in that. And I had a knack for it. I guess my personality fit well with that position.”

He returned to America carrying trauma.

“Everybody in some way or another was affected by the death and dying of the Iraqi civilians and their fellow soldiers. Whether or not you were in intelligence, whether or not you were a medic, whether or not you were infantry, whether or not you were a driver, you were
affected. It was brutal. It did a lot of damage to the psyche of a lot of people.”

Back in Chicago, Fields returned to work. And one day, he visited a bar near his home and “took a shot of alcohol.” One shot led to another and soon he was excessively drinking every day, sometimes at parties, where others found him amusing. He thought of visiting a Veterans Affairs center to get help, but he did not. Instead, his life spiraled downward.

“Over the course of 10 years, I self-destructed to the point where I went from being a guy that was the life of the party to the guy that no one wanted to invite to the party,” he said, “and it happened insidiously” as it took a severe toll. His wife left him and he lost his condo and job. He wound up living in his best friend’s basement, “drinking and drinking” every day.

Aware that Fields could not go on like this forever, a friend bought him a plane ticket back to Rhode Island, where his relatives lived. He settled in Woonsocket.

“The problem was that I was at home but I didn’t stop drinking. At least I had some people around me to help and I got a little bit better, but now I was drinking [and] I had a car. I was drinking and I had family members I was affecting. Fast forward to 2018, when I woke up one morning and after a really, really, really bad night,”—the morning he woke up to a dead turkey under a moldering pizza box.

Asked for his thoughts on Alcohol Use Disorder, former Rhode Island Department of Health director Dr. Michael Fine told Ocean State Stories that “alcoholism is a huge problem in Rhode Island. We usually rank in the top five states nationally for binge drinking and other measures of alcohol dependence and other alcoholism related issues.”

Fine listed many of the effects of alcoholism, stating that “it causes liver, heart and gastrointestinal bleeding, sexual impotence, and lots of interactional stress, as a result of the loss of inhibition, and is associated with interpersonal violence and domestic abuse.”

Dr. Michael Fine – Submitted photo

With resolution and support, recovery is possible, he said.

“There are lots of pathways to recovery. Many people benefit from twelve steps programs and regular intense exercise. Something like two thirds of people in recovery with treatment maintain their recovery by regular exercise.

“Getting into recovery isn’t always quick or easy. It takes something like seven attempts at treatment to get into sustainable recovery. But lots of people get there, with the disciplined support of family and friends, which can be lifesaving.”

Fine’s advice to those who are active alcoholics and the people worried about them?

“Start with 12 step. Tell that person you’re worried about you’ll go with them to the first meeting, and help them find a meeting close to home. Then drive them there and go in with them. That’s what I did when I was in practice. It works.”

Alcoholics Anonymous worked for Fields. Recovering, he contemplated his future. Sales, he decided, was not it.

I found that in sobriety my job as a sales and marketing person was not working,” he said. “I had the talent to be able to get in the door and to get people to like me and to get people to listen to me. I even had the ability to get them to buy whatever I was selling. No knock against sales people, because we need them, but there was this one little thing that I didn’t have — and that was sell, sell, sell.”

Fields did not have the determination. He also did not want to be in a profession where a drink at a bar or a meeting was sometimes part of the deal.

“So I talked to my sponsor about it and I talked to my family about it and they all came to the same conclusion that the time I was the most happy, where I felt the most fulfilled, was without a doubt when I was a medic in the Army in Iraq. It was the most useful I ever felt. And they all said, ‘well, what about being a nurse?’ ”

That appealed to Fields, but there were practical matters to consider.

“It seemed so far-fetched,” he recalled. “How was I supposed to do that? I had no money to go to school.”

But Fields meanwhile had finally sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he received it at the Providence VA Medical Center. “I ended up getting help with my service-connected disabilities, which include major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder,” he said.

While he was receiving treatment, the VA staff informed him about the Veterans Readiness and Employment Program, which provides veterans “job training, education, employment accommodations, resume development, and job seeking skills coaching,” according to the program’s website.

Fields and his nana, Marilyn Fields – Submitted photo

Fields took an aptitude test, and one profession it showed him suited for was nursing. “Everyone had said nursing before, so I decided to go with nursing,” Fields recalled. He enrolled in prerequisite courses at the Community College of Rhode Island and then transferred to Rhode Island College, where, as he put it, he “miraculously got the grades to be able to get into the School of Nursing.” Fields minored in geriatrics while working toward his nursing degree.

“I feel like I have a special knack with senior citizens,” Fields said in a Rhode Island College story. “I have a close relationship with the elderly women in my family, especially my nana, who is in her 80s now. I strive to treat people the way I treat her. I have the care and capacity to make a difference in geriatrics, and I want to do so as a nurse practitioner in geriatrics mental health.”

In the story, Fields credited his advisor, Assistant Professor of Nursing Sheri Boucher, an Air Force veteran, with helping him grow “academically and personally.” Fields said that her “intervention helped me regain focus on my studies and navigate my personal challenges effectively.”

Fields will take his boards to become a Registered Nurse later this year. He lives with his fiancé in a quiet rural area and is grateful for her and the life he has now.

“I have had the opportunity to help people,” Fields said. “I have been helped. I have four dogs, two cats, 25 chickens. I live near a pond and none of this was because of anything I really did. It was all because of getting sober and listening to suggestions and trusting in my higher power, who I choose to call God. The tenements of AA worked for me. They’ll work for anyone else.”

Recovery, he said, is a day-by-day journey.

“It’s fragile. It’s one day at a time. I could wake up tomorrow morning, something could happen. I lost my father to alcoholism last year. He was sober for seven years. I’m only sober for six. I’m no better than him. The difference is, I may have a chance to use that as an example to not pick up again because if I do, this whole thing is over.

“It will all go away and I’ll be back on the couch sleeping next to a dead turkey.”

Fields salutes at a Memorial Day 2024 ceremony – Submitted photo

Anyone in immediate danger should call 911

Call 988 if you are having thoughts of suicide or are in crisis. 988 is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

To connect with a VA Veterans Crisis Line responder, anytime day or night:

    Call 988 and select 1

    ● Text 838255

    ● Start a confidential chat: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help-now/chat/

    ● If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 800-799-4889.

Find an AA meeting: https://findrecovery.com/aa_meetings/ri/warwick/

Other resources:

● BHLink: For confidential support and to get connected to care, call (401) 414-LINK (5465) or visit the BHLink 24-hour/7-day triage center at 975 Waterman Ave., East Providence. Website: bhlink.org

● The Samaritans of Rhode Island: (401) 272-4044 or (800) 365-4044. Website: samaritansri.org

● The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 “from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.”

● Butler Hospital Behavioral Health Services Call Center: Available 24/7 “to guide individuals seeking advice for themselves or others regarding suicide prevention.” (844) 401-0111

Fields was profiled in this story published on the Rhode Island College website: https://www.ric.edu/news-events/news/meet-our-graduates-former-combat-medic-earns-degree-nursing